A dozen people connected to various moving companies were indicted in Ohio.
The United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio unsealed an indictment Tuesday that charged the people with conspiring in a racketeering enterprise to defraud customers through their moving companies.
"This nationwide hostage moving scam ends today," said U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman in a news briefing Tuesday.
The indictment named the below moving companies and said they operated in at least 10 states including Maryland.
- First National Moving and Storage
- Flagship Van Lines
- Independent Van Lines
- JBR Underground
- National Relocation Van Lines
- National Relocation Solutions
- Presidential Moving Services
- Public Moving and Storage / Public Moving Services
- Smart Relocation Solutions
- Trident Auto Shipping
- Unified Van Lines
- United National Moving and Storage
- US Relocation Systems.
The defendants named in the indictment operated their scheme between April 2013 and June 2018.
Investigators said the scammers would create moving companies complete with false reviews about their great service, lying to potential customers about how long the businesses had been in existence, and provide customers with a low-ball estimate.
"And then when the movers would show up, they would load all the household goods into the moving vans and then they’d bump up the price," said Glassman.
If you believe you are a victim, please call the Victim Hotline at 1-800-424-9071 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If customers failed to pay, in some cases, the moving companies would steal the property or threaten to auction it off.
"The indicted individuals, they prayed on honest, innocent, and vulnerable people during an extraordinarily stressful event that’s encountered by every American, every day, in every demographic across the United States," said Regional Special Agent-in-Charge Thomas Ullom with the Office of the Inspector General under the U.S. Department of Transportation.
As customers complained to federal or local authorities, the moving companies would change the name of the business, launch a new website, file for a new license, then start over.
WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii has reported extensively on the activities of the moving companies. In the last year, they've been connected to four different companies in as many states including Flagship Van Lines in Connecticut, Unified Van Lines in Baltimore, Presidential Moving LLC in Texas, and Public Moving Services in North Carolina.
Five people were arrested Tuesday including Andrey Shuklin, Phyllis Ricci Quincoces (aka Faith Ashford, Grace Rubestello, Phyllis Ricci, Phyllis Ann), Vladimir Pesteranu (aka Vova), Roman Iakovlev, and Jessica Martin (aka Emma Ricci, Mary Austin).
If convicted, the defendants could face up to 20 years in prison.
#BREAKING 12 people charged in connection w/ the moving company scam we've been reporting on. U.S. Attorney's Office in #Cincinnati expected to hold briefing at 1:30pm ET. We will stream LIVE on @WMAR2News Facebook.
My latest report: @WMAR2News https://t.co/SuU5JCjVnG
— Mallory Sofastaii WMAR (@mal_sofastaii) July 31, 2018